Hollywood sold us a narrative of “Texas Manhood.” Officers in Uvalde destroyed it.

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Published on: June 8, 2023

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AUSTIN, Texas–For the past six months, I’ve spent much of my time reporting in Texas, mainly in Austin and Uvalde. Last year, when I heard about a young Latino man taking  two AR- 15 style weapons to his former elementary school and using one to gun down students in his old classroom, I knew I had to go investigate to understand this horror.

Something else drew me here. It was the images of big, bulky, beefy, heavily armed Texas men, who then —and for more than hour— did nothing to end the terror. I’m an investigative journalist. At my core, I knew it was too difficult to gather data on men that were probably scared and too prideful to admit it.  Of course, there was not a clear line of authority. But, seriously, waiting for all that time? 

In television reports, we heard about an unarmed mother who ran into the school to rescue her child. And inside, for about 77 minutes, since the emergency started, these big, powerful men from the Lone Star  State, the home of the Lone Ranger, didn’t advance. 

In Hollywood, we are shown images of law enforcement guys that are supposedly afraid of nothing. They will always run towards confrontation, especially with a “Bad Guy.” We are sold a worn-out narrative of stereotypes of men wearing big boots and hats, carrying even bigger guns and saving a damsel in distress.

When reality hit though, these meant-to-be heroes did nothing. Yes, they arrived within three minutes of the shooting. About a dozen officers entered the school hallway. From the footage I watched, it looked like they were ready to move in. Then, the 18-year-old man shot out of the classroom. That’s when the officers knew he had an AR-style weapon. And that’s when everything stopped.

I don’t think I’m off when I say that the officers were probably simply terrified. I mean, who wouldn’t be scared? You are taking on a weapon that is meant for war. They knew you won’t survive a confrontation with an AR, that the bullets could tear through their regular police armor. They were dead-police-officers-walking. They knew it and got scared. 

So, here is the thing: You don’t need to spend millions of dollars talking about how the burly men of Texas who responded to the school in Uvalde are not superhuman Lone Star rangers. Rather, they are heavily armed meek men frozen for more than an hour, about 50 feet from the classroom where the massacre happened.

Don’t be mistaken: I love men. I have been married to one for 32 years. I have a 27-year-old son and many male colleagues. So don’t interpret this as an anti-male rant. This is a rant against maintaining a now-debunked universal image of “Texas manhood.”

I am a journalist with my feet firmly planted on the ground, and I’m also a dreamer. I wish the cops would apologize to the city of Uvalde and to the families. I wish they would resign out of respect. As the Uvalde survivor Caitlyne Gonzales says: You took an oath and didn’t act, so you shouldn’t be wearing the badge. She is only 11.

While reporting in Uvalde, I identified the victims’ trauma with my own post-traumatic stress disorder after covering 9/11. On that day in NYC, so many police officers and fire fighters ran into the Twin Towers, filled with fear. But their fear was overpowered by their selfless decision to save lives. 

In Texas, these big guys were taken down, not by an AR but by their own dread. It would help everyone if we just acknowledged it and talked about it. 

I know it feels shameful even to bring this up. I’m not the same person after investigating Uvalde. I never thought I would find myself able to speak so authoritatively, from a personal perspective, about how my view of armed law enforcement men in Texas has changed forever. 

Sadly, for the children of Uvalde, it’s changed too, and they have to live with it. It’s the elephant in the room. I’m not afraid to name it.

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